Daily Press Briefing - December 22, 2014
Index for Today's Briefing:
12:38 p.m. EST
MS. HARF: Good afternoon. Welcome to the daily press briefing. It sounds like I’m in an auditorium right now, okay.
QUESTION: It’s a big venue, small audience.
MS. HARF: Exactly. Look, I’m going to have to take a second to get used to that echo. Thank you for your flexibility in being down here. They are renovating our home in the briefing room, so we’ll be down here for a few days. And --
QUESTION: Do we have to use these?
MS. HARF: Yes. So --
QUESTION: Hello. Hello, hello. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: As Matt just demonstrated for everyone, please do, when you ask a question, like you’re at the UN General Assembly, turn on your microphone so the transcript can get it picked up.
Just one item at the top for everyone on the Tunisian presidential elections. I’m sure you saw the Secretary’s statement this morning. We congratulate President-elect Beji Caid Essebsi on his victory, and the Tunisian people on the successful completion of their process to elect a new government under the constitution adopted last January. Tunisia has provided a shining example to the region and to the world of what can be achieved through dedication to democracy, consensus, and an inclusive political process. Tunisia’s achievements this year laid the groundwork for a more stable, prosperous, and democratic future for the country. We look forward to working with the president-elect and Tunisia’s new – excuse me – new parliament and government to strengthen and expand our country’s enduring friendship and strategic partnership.
MS. HARF: I like that you have to turn the microphone on to talk.
MS. HARF: You’re all just going to keep them on all briefing, aren’t you? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I am, all the better to interrupt you with.
MS. HARF: Exactly.
QUESTION: I just – I don’t have very much at all today.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: But over the weekend, there were a flurry of reports out of Egypt about these Apache helicopters that you guys had – were giving them – having actually arrived. I’m a bit confused. Was there some new development in this? Because from what I understand, they were actually delivered in mid-November after having been approved for release at the end of August.
MS. HARF: Correct. Right. There was no new delivery. I’m not sure why the --
MS. HARF: -- press picked it up. In August, the end of August if you all remember, we released the 10 Apache helicopters that had been held and they arrived in Egypt in November. So this is the same delivery. Nothing --
QUESTION: All right. And there was nothing new in – nothing new involved?
MS. HARF: No, no.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any response or reaction to the replacement of the Egypt – Egyptian intelligence chief?
MS. HARF: I don’t. Obviously, these are internal Egyptian decisions. I don’t have any comment on them.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about North Korea?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: I think over the weekend they have threatened thousands of times greater punishment on the U.S. if there’s any sort of move against them for the Sony attack, including attacks on the White House and the Pentagon. I was wondering if I could get a response to that, and also if you could comment on reports that they have lost internet access and may be under attack.
MS. HARF: Well, on the first question, obviously we take very seriously any threats to U.S. citizens, to U.S. companies, regardless of what that threat looks like. We are obviously aware of these recent reports. At this time we have no specific, credible threat information that leads credence to these reports, but obviously, law enforcement, homeland security officials are continuing to monitor the situation and would closely follow any leads they may get, provide appropriate guidance to any one individuals or entities that may be at risk. We do urge North Korea to exercise restraint, to refrain from further threatening actions at this time. Obviously, we’ve talked about this a lot in the last few days, but that’s what we’re focused on right now.
In terms of your second question, as the President said, we are considering a range of options in response. We aren’t going to discuss publicly operational details about the possible response options or comment on those kind of reports in any way except to say that as we implement our responses, some will be seen, some may not be seen. So I can’t confirm those reports, but in general, that’s what the President has spoken to.
QUESTION: A follow-up on North Korea.
MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Also over the weekend, the government urged the United States to apologize for linking it to the Sony attacks. Any reaction to that call?
MS. HARF: Well, as the FBI and the President and everyone has now made clear, we are confident the North Korean Government is responsible for this destructive attack. We stand by this conclusion. The Government of North Korea has a long history of denying responsibility for destructive and provocative actions, and if they want to help here, they can admit their culpability and compensate Sony for the damage that – damages that they cost.
MS. HARF: Do you want to follow up?
QUESTION: Yeah. You’re calling on the North Korean Government to compensate Sony?
MS. HARF: Well, over the weekend they said a number of things, including what Pam referenced, but also talking about a joint investigation, and yes, if they want to help here, as they indicated over the weekend they did, then they can admit their culpability and compensate Sony for the damages this attack cost.
QUESTION: Okay. And you also said the North Koreans have a long history of covering up?
MS. HARF: Of denying responsibility for destructive --
QUESTION: Denying responsibility.
MS. HARF: -- and provocative actions. That’s obviously not just cyber-related; other actions as well.
QUESTION: How would you rank the U.S. record on that?
MS. HARF: I don’t think there is any comparison at all.
QUESTION: Has not the United States Government denied responsibility for things that it ultimately admitted to?
MS. HARF: I don’t think there’s any comparison to anything the U.S. Government does and anything the North Korea Government does, period. So if you have a more specific question, I’m happy to entertain that. But a broad comparison is just not warranted.
QUESTION: Well, I mean for years, and years, and years, you denied – and there was a denial of any role in the coup in Iran in 1953, for example. There’s – I’m just saying that --
MS. HARF: An episode about which we’ve been very open and public in discussing our history --
QUESTION: Recently. But not – but it took 40 years for that to happen.
MS. HARF: We’ve – we are – look, I will put our record of discussing our history and our past up against any other countries on the planet --
MS. HARF: -- particularly North Korea’s.
Yes. You have to turn on your microphone. Is there anything else on North Korea?
MS. HARF: Okay, let’s finish North Korea.
QUESTION: Can you take – can you talk about your consultations with the Six-Party Talks about the hacking incident?
MS. HARF: What consultations specifically?
QUESTION: Well, there was --
MS. HARF: The Secretary spoke with his Chinese counterpart over the weekend, I believe, on December 21st to talk about a range of issues, including the recent cyber attacks on Sony Pictures. We have discussed this issue with China specifically in order to share information and express our concerns about the attack and ask for its cooperation. That’s a conversation that will be ongoing.
QUESTION: Has the history between the U.S. and China on cyber security, like considering that the U.S. indicted five Chinese hackers this year, has that led to any contentious discussions with China?
MS. HARF: Well, I would separate a few issues out. First, as the President said, we have no evidence that any other government was involved here, and that includes the Chinese Government. But look, we share a concern about cyber incidents. We raise them with China when we have a concern. But this is an area where, again, the Secretary and others have asked for China’s cooperation. Obviously, despite our differences I would say on this or other issues, we have affirmed that malicious cyber activity like this attack can pose a risk to international peace and security, so we’ll keep having the conversation with them.
QUESTION: Do you have any thoughts about the fact that Chinese servers may have been used in this attack?
MS. HARF: I know there’s an investigation ongoing and don’t have any confirmation on those kinds of details. I know there’s a lot of rumors out there, but again, no information, no evidence that any other government was involved here at this time.
QUESTION: Just one more for me. Do you have any comments on their decision to skip the Security Council meeting this morning, or today?
MS. HARF: The North Koreans?
MS. HARF: Switching gears here. Yes, just a couple words on that. Today’s Security Council meeting is a historic one, I would say. For the first time, the situation in North Korea, the human rights situation, will be a standalone agenda item in the Security Council. I think it’s at 3:00 p.m. today. This is a significant step. It will ensure continued Council attention to the human rights situation moving forward and demonstrates really the concern of the international community. I guess I’d say I’m not surprised that North Korea would seek to avoid scrutiny of I think what anyone would call an atrocious human rights record. They’ve been doing so for years. The DPRK’s heightened diplomatic activity both in New York and around the globe I think to avoid an examination of this record is pretty telling and I think probably speaks for itself. But we’re looking forward to the session this afternoon. We think it’s an important step forward.
Anything else on North Korea? Okay, let’s move on.
QUESTION: Thanks. This reminds me of the European Commission --
MS. HARF: I know.
QUESTION: -- briefing room.
MS. HARF: Thank you for bearing with us.
QUESTION: But there are not 20-plus translators around.
MS. HARF: Well, that’s what I was saying. I should be translated into other languages --
MS. HARF: -- for our viewers around the world.
QUESTION: This building must have seen by now the report over the weekend that put together that concluded that failure on the part of Americans and British and Indian spy agencies to pull together their intelligence, and that could have stopped that Mumbai 2008 attacks. So what is your take on that?
MS. HARF: Yeah. Well, of course, we’ve seen the piece. I would say a couple points. Over the last six years, the intelligence community here in the United States has worked with all of our partners to make sure we’re best positioned to stop attacks like Mumbai before they ever happen again. The intelligence community has improved coordination and intelligence sharing between our own agencies, between the intelligence community and law enforcement in the U.S., but also among our partners abroad.
I would also say that I think that piece highlights the challenge of putting together all the puzzle pieces in a very complicated intelligence picture. Often, I think as you could see from the piece, there are bits and pieces that different people have, different agencies have, different countries have. And often, intelligence is like trying to put together a puzzle without knowing what it’s supposed to look like at the end, not having all the pieces and having some that go to a different puzzle. I’ve heard that analogy used, and I think it’s particularly apt when it comes to Mumbai.
So it’s a challenge that we confront every day, but our intelligence community has in the wake of Mumbai taken steps with our partners and here at home to really improve their ability to prevent these kinds of attacks.
QUESTION: But knowing that we have so many agencies here, India has many agency, British have, so is there a synergy developed now? And after six years, do we have somewhere where these do get together and so that this doesn’t get repeated?
MS. HARF: Absolutely. And that’s, I think, what I was referencing – that we’ve always had ways of intelligence sharing both internally inside the U.S. Government between intelligence and law enforcement, but also with our partners overseas. Whether it’s the Indians or the British, we have very close intelligence partnerships. In the wake of Mumbai, we’ve taken additional steps to increase information sharing, again, to try and put all these puzzle pieces together to try and prevent something like this from happening. It is a tough challenge though, certainly, but we’re very committed to doing better here.
MS. HARF: Anything else on this? Okay.
QUESTION: Can we move on?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you. I would like to ask a question about ISIS. Deputy Prime Minister of Kurdistan Qubad Talabani said that the United States has directly provided arms to the Kurdish Peshmerga, a claim that the United States used to deny. They – you had said before that – I mean not you personally, but the United States has said that what it did was help transfer weapons from Baghdad to Kurdistan; no direct weapons from American stockpiles had been provided to the Peshmerga. Why does he say something different from --
MS. HARF: Well, I think you’re skipping over the conversation we’ve had over the last three or four months. The President and others have said a few things: first, that we are providing assistance to both the Iraqi Security Forces and to the Kurdish forces. We’ve been very open about saying that. All of this is coordinated, certainly, with the Iraqi central government, but we’ve been clear we will provide assistance across the board.
QUESTION: So weapons --
MS. HARF: And DOD can outline more specifically what that assistance looks like.
QUESTION: So weapons from American stockpiles have directly been --
MS. HARF: I’m happy for the Department of Defense to speak more to those specifics, but we’ve been clear we will provide assistance to the Iraqi Security Forces, to the Kurdish forces, all in coordination with each other, but certainly to both. The President has spoken to that.
QUESTION: One more question on Sinjar: If you aware that the Kurds carried out a major operation --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- taking most parts of the town. I’d like to ask a broader question here about President Obama’s strategy. How effective it is in other parts of Iraq and Syria? I mean, we’ve seen some progress from the Kurdistan side. Can we say that’s the only part of the President Obama’s strategy that’s really working?
MS. HARF: Well, a couple points. On Sinjar specifically, Kurdish Peshmerga ground forces, supported by coalition and Iraqi army air support, have opened a corridor to Mount Sinjar. As you said, this is a significant development. Once this land route is confirmed safe for civilian travel, communities on and around Sinjar will have the opportunity to leave the area to move about if they want to do so. So this wasn’t just a Peshmerga operation. It was in coordination with coalition air support and Iraqi army air support.
But it’s not one size fits all here. There are different challenges we have across Iraq. Obviously, there are different challenges in Syria. The strategy is tailored to each of those operational challenges on the ground. Sinjar prevents – or presents, excuse me, one specific set of challenges that one specific operational plan can deal with. But it’s different across the board.
QUESTION: Sorry, did you --
MS. HARF: And we’ve had success other places as well. It’s not just in the Kurdish areas. There has been success pushing ISIL back throughout Iraq. But this is a long fight; we know that too.
QUESTION: Sorry, did you say Iraqi air force also helped?
MS. HARF: Correct. The Peshmerga forces on the ground around Sinjar were supported by coalition and Iraqi army air support.
QUESTION: But does Iraq have any air defense system?
MS. HARF: Well, clearly there was some helping here, so the answer would be yes.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that, please, Marie?
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Is it now an idea that the Peshmerga will help join any fight to advance on Mosul, which of course has been taken by the ISIL for several months now?
MS. HARF: I don’t have any operational plans like that to preview. The Peshmerga have played a key role in pushing back ISIL in parts of Iraq. I just don’t have any preview on that kind of issue.
QUESTION: Sorry, I need to go back to North Korea for a second.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: On Friday, we had talked about – or with Jen, had talked about the state sponsors of terrorism act --
MS. HARF: Yep.
QUESTION: -- and then the President in this interview --
MS. HARF: The President spoke to it.
QUESTION: -- that was done Friday but aired on Sunday said that yeah, you’re considering it. I had asked on Friday what the practical punitive impact of putting them back on the list would be, considering the fact – considering what I believe to be the fact that when they were taken off the list, they didn’t actually get any sanctions relief for it.
MS. HARF: So it’s an excellent question that I’ve been talking to our team about this morning to get a little clarity on when they were taken off, whether any sanctions came off with that, or because they’re among the most sanctioned country in the world, all of those provisions remained. I don’t have a clear answer yet on exactly what the specifics of that are, so let me see if I can go back to our team. But suffice to say, I mean, they are among the most sanctioned countries in the world.
QUESTION: Well, exactly.
MS. HARF: But there are certain sanctions --
QUESTION: No, but there are a lot --
MS. HARF: -- provisions that go along with state sponsors of terrorism. I don’t know if those provisions remained on for other things.
QUESTION: Right. So my question is basically: If you put them back on, would it be anything more than a symbolic move, like you’re on the list of bad guys now?
MS. HARF: Right, I understand the question and I will --
QUESTION: And secondly, as you say --
MS. HARF: -- endeavor to get you an answer.
QUESTION: As you say, North Korea is one of the most heavily sanctioned countries in the world --
MS. HARF: Absolutely.
QUESTION: -- and it’s pretty hard for it to be involved in any kind of legitimate, at least, international finance or commerce. So with that in mind, I’m wondering how much thought was given to the response put in – your response before that North Korea should pay compensation to Sony?
MS. HARF: Well, that’s just one piece of --
QUESTION: How could North Korea – how could Sony legally accept compensation from North Korea? Is there an exception in the --
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check with our attorneys.
QUESTION: Would you? Because, I mean, as far as I know, if you’re getting a payment, a direct payment, from the North Korean Government, you’re breaking the law.
MS. HARF: I’m happy to check with our attorneys. I’m sure we could probably find some exception to make in this case.
I was broadly making the point that North Korea’s offer this weekend to “help with the investigation” was probably a little bit misplaced, and there are things they could do to better assist, including admitting their culpability.
QUESTION: And pay compensation.
MS. HARF: And paying compensation, yes.
QUESTION: And what do you have in mind for that compensation? Would that be like actors’ salaries, things like that?
MS. HARF: I don’t have more specifics for you than that, but I’m happy to check with our legal folks, and I will try to get you a question – or an answer on the sanctions question.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Nicole, yes.
QUESTION: Yeah, a Cuba question – a three-part Cuba question.
MS. HARF: Great.
QUESTION: First, about the value of the claims that Cuba has made against the U.S. for what it regards as an illegal embargo. And second, what you think a realistic payout of that claim might be in cents on the dollar.
MS. HARF: I --
QUESTION: And third --
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: -- how long you think it might take. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: I’m not – these are going to be unsatisfactory answers --
QUESTION: That’s fine.
MS. HARF: -- in part because I don’t have any dollar figures for you.
MS. HARF: As Assistant Secretary Jacobson talked about a little bit in general – I think it was Friday – these things are not going to get resolved before we normalize diplomatic relations. Obviously, it will be part of the conversation. I’ll see if there’s more specific numbers we have for you. I doubt there will be, but I can check – or a timeframe.
QUESTION: Okay. Would appreciate that.
MS. HARF: Yeah, I will check.
QUESTION: A couple of China questions.
QUESTION: Oh, wait, wait, sorry. On Cuba --
MS. HARF: This does very much feel like (inaudible).
QUESTION: -- did you all notice at all that two days after the big announcement from the President, the deputy prime minister of Russia, Mr. Rogozin, showed up in Havana for --
MS. HARF: I did not notice that.
QUESTION: -- big security meetings with Raul Castro and others? Are you --
MS. HARF: The Secretary looks forward to visiting as well.
QUESTION: Right, but two days after the U.S. and the Cubans announced that they’re going to move towards restoration, Deputy Prime Minister Rogozin, who has been no shrinking violet when it comes to the use of Russian military, showed – I mean, was in Havana for meetings. And I’m just wondering --
MS. HARF: I wouldn’t --
QUESTION: -- did that get onto your radar screen at all?
MS. HARF: No. Nope, and I wouldn’t read anything into it.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MS. HARF: Anything else on Cuba before we move on? Great. Elliot.
QUESTION: Okay. There’s a Kyodo report that the Chinese are building a new military facility on an island near the Senkaku Islands. I was wondering if you’ve seen anything about that and if you have any response.
MS. HARF: I hadn’t seen that. Let me check on it.
QUESTION: Okay. And then there’s also state media reporting that there’s a law under consideration to place new regulations on foreign non-government organizations --
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: -- operating in China. Any reaction to that?
MS. HARF: So we’re aware of those reports. I think that they’re considering a new law to regulate these foreign NGOs working in China. Obviously, we consistently emphasize respect for rule of law, independent judiciary, free flow of information, and robust civil society are really critical to any country, but certainly in China; that’s a message we give them constantly.
QUESTION: Do you have any specific guidance or analysis about whether this law would actually place undo restrictions on American NGOs operating in China?
MS. HARF: I haven’t seen specifics on what would be in such a law, but obviously we believe that things like NGOs should be able to operate freely. But I haven’t seen the specifics of this proposal.
QUESTION: More on China.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: A former political party chief who had been in the United States, Wang Guoqiang, returned to China today, where he will possibly face disciplinary action in connection to an anti-corruption investigation. Xinhua says that the United States provided some sort of assistance in helping – in aiding his return to China, and I had two questions. First of all, what exactly did the U.S. do, if this is correct, considering the U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with China?
MS. HARF: So a couple points: Requests from countries, broadly speaking, with which we do not have extradition treaties are reviewed on a case-by-case basis in consultation with other branches of the U.S. Government. In terms of this specific case, obviously we’re aware of those reports. Regarding the return of a former official to China, I think the Department of Justice is probably the best place to get more information on that.
Anything else on China?
QUESTION: Can you say in general, in a case like this where there is not a treaty, how the U.S. would facilitate getting an individual back?
MS. HARF: It’s just on a case-by-case basis. Each case is looked at. We work with other agencies within the government. I don’t have more for you than that.
MS. HARF: Uh-huh. Wait. Turn your microphone on, please. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: On the same issue, extradition: There was a fresh request from the Turkish Government, according to Turkish newspapers, for the United States to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based imam.
MS. HARF: Well, as a matter of longstanding policy, the State Department does not comment one way or the other on pending extradition requests or confirm or deny that a request might even exist.
QUESTION: But you do have an extradition treaty with Turkey, signed 70 – 70s.
MS. HARF: Fine. We don’t comment on specifics.
Anything else? Yes.
QUESTION: Does that go beyond – once an extradition has been completed, however, you will talk about it, yes?
MS. HARF: I can check. I’m assuming.
QUESTION: That was the case with Noriega, so --
MS. HARF: Well, if it was the case with Noriega, then it must be the rule. Let me check.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: I would assume so, Matt, but there’s – I don’t want to make a sweeping generalization.
QUESTION: But I think in the past, you ruled out any possibility for the United States to extradite Fethullah Gulen.
MS. HARF: I don’t think that that’s true. I think every time I’ve been asked about this issue from this podium, I have said exactly the same thing, as has Jen, as I’m certain my predecessors have as well.
QUESTION: Actually, technically, I think you’ve never been asked about it from this podium.
MS. HARF: This is the podium from the briefing room.
QUESTION: Well, not in this room. (Laughter.)
MS. HARF: This – no, this is the podium from the briefing room. I was going to be up there, but I didn’t want, like, half of you to have your backs to me. So the podium travels with us.
Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just a quick one, back to Cuba. Have you seen the new Twitter handle of the – Castro and --
MS. HARF: I haven’t.
QUESTION: Have you any comment?
MS. HARF: I have not seen it yet.
MS. HARF: I’m happy to take a look.
QUESTION: Okay. He mentioned the U.S. and the good times and all – and that’s why he’s on Twitter yesterday.
MS. HARF: Well, certainly, one part of what the President announced last week was being able to get internet to more people in Cuba, and certainly, that would be a good thing. But I have not seen that specific Twitter account.
QUESTION: Thank you – oh.
MS. HARF: Jumping the gun here, Matt.
QUESTION: Thanks. So just recently, the CIA – WikiLeaks released classified CIA documents on tips for – what was it – for U.S. Government operatives to avoid detection at foreign airports and how to infiltrate the EU Schengen areas. So does the State Department have anything to say on that?
MS. HARF: I don’t think it will surprise you that I’m not going to comment on allegedly leaked documents that may or may not be real and that appear to be classified.
Anything else? Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you have any comments or updates on the status of information-sharing negotiations among Japan, U.S., and South Korea?
MS. HARF: I don’t. I’m happy to check with our folks.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:02 p.m.)
DPB # 215